TAMPA — Just as this city used to be advertised as America's Great Next City, people at Tropical Heatwave say it should be billed as the Place to Hear America's Great Next Bands.
In many cases it has been, which is why Hans and Jane Griebla of Hudson began to fret Saturday afternoon as they stood in a bar and watched the afternoon downpour outside. The rain threatened to keep them from getting to the nearby Cuban Club to catch Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles.
The band isn't well known, but Jane Griebla thinks the roots rockers could be a Next Big Thing.
She might be right. She remembers talking to bands at past Heatwaves only to see them later on Late Show With David Letterman.
Hans agreed. He watched Alejandro Escovedo at Heatwave a couple of years ago, and now he can watch him on YouTube playing with Bruce Springsteen.
Jane pulled out her iPhone and glared at the weather radar that showed just one isolated storm sitting over Tampa.
"Right over Heatwave," she said in disgust.
Though weather delayed sets by about 45 minutes, the Grieblas managed to enjoy the rest of the 28th annual music festival sponsored by WMNF-FM 88.5, Tampa's community radio station.
This year, Heatwave boasted 32 bands bombarding Ybor City venues such as New World Brewery, Orpheum and the Cuban Club with a musical buffet of ska, reggae, Latin jazz, folk, soul, funk and pop. Festival coordinators expected between 4,000 and 5,000 to attend after strong advance sales, said Carrie Core, WMNF community coordinator.
What's not to love about Heatwave, asked swampy, bluesy, folky, pop musician Lauris Vidal, who hails from the Daytona Beach area? He loves the venue, where you can move from bar to building, stumbling into something different while mingling.
As Vidal was about to go on, concertgoers chatted with David Dondero, a National Public Radio folk darling a couple of years ago, who was enjoying a beer and the music at New World Brewery.
Musicians view Heatwave as a midlevel music festival on a national scale but a distinctive one that exemplifies the heart and soul of the community radio station that puts it on, as well as the city of Tampa.
Will Quinlan of Will Quinlan and the Diviners, an indie folk group that has played the festival before, lives in Tampa and would like to see Heatwave book larger national acts in 10 years. But then he thought about it.
"I like that it's not too well known as well," he said. "I like the fact that it's ours."
Not far away, Gary and Judy Horvatis, snowbirds from Buffalo, N.Y., residing in Clearwater, sat at a table outside the Cuban Club band shell staking out a good spot to hear blues singer Michael Burks.
"I don't know how you can improve it," Gary Horvatis said. "The price is right and the bands are right. It's perfect."
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.